September 8, 2023

Impatience is an argument with reality


Most is life is waiting for other people.

It’s infuriating and exhausting. Human existence is basically a nonstop game of bowling, where we spend most of the time waiting for other players to take their turn.

And then, when it’s finally our turn, it lasts about ten seconds, and then we’re waiting again.

Sadly, not only is there nothing we can do about this phenomenon, but there’s also no explanation for it. People aren’t lazy or incompetent. They’re not going out of their way to waste our time. It’s not even that they don’t value punctuality or responsiveness or politeness. It’s just entropy. Most things in the universe inevitably decline into disorder. It’s not personal.

Although, it would almost be easier if it were personal. Because at least then, our anger would be justified. We would have good reason to choke people out with charging cables when they show up twenty minutes late to an hour long lunch.

Or when they finally emailed that stupid file we asked for, like six days ago, our fantasy of their mysterious and untimely death wouldn’t feel so harsh.

But all impatience is nothing more than an argument with reality. Our burning desire for things to be different from what we’re experiencing right now, our gnawing demand for time to speed the hell up, it’s all wasted energy.

Anything other than accepting people’s natural rhythms only works against us and them.

I once read a study from career website that reported thirty percent of employees arrive late for work each day. And forty percent of the employers said they’ve fired someone for being habitually late.

Both numbers seem quite low to me. Considering the human optimism bias, which leads people to underestimate the time and obstacles involved in doing things, I’m surprised those stats aren’t higher.

My guess is that at least fifty percent of people are going to be late to their own funeral.

In my estimation, the more useful questiond those surveys should be asking is:

How good are you at waiting for people? What techniques do you use to work around others?

Fried, the successful and polarizing startup founder, explained it fittingly on his recent blog.

You’re not ignoring people or dismissing them, but moving without them because they simply aren’t available to move with you. This isn’t about avoidance, or actively interrupting them to shift their priorities to favor your needs over theirs. It’s about, ah, you’re busy, no worries, we’ll figure it out. This is how organizations slow down. They grind gears and end up running in circles. And the default mode is dependency, favoring syncing up and locking in over decoupling and letting loose. But dependency is the wrong mode. You don’t slow down to merge; you speed up and take a different path forward. To move quicker is to move independently. To work around people. To glide, and not grind. Not to wait, but either to do without, to do on your own, or to find a simpler way that eliminates the requirement of their help in the first place.

To me, that approach sounds like a better use of our energy than bemoaning the fact that we’re always waiting around for people.

Of course, the argument against my philosophy on patience is that of boundaries and enablement:

Is there a point where we have become unreasonably tolerant? Should we start acknowledging that some behaviors are stupid, rude and harmful? And are there legitimate examples where crazy people are trying to pass off their dysfunction as normal and acceptable?

Certainly. If there’s someone on your team who doesn’t respond to chat messages, ignores important tasks, and regularly completes his work one or two weeks past deadlines, that problem should be dealt with.

Especially if that employee is negatively impacting other people’s work.

But in my experience, if there is no negative material outcome outside of our own frustration, then we should probably let it go. Because we’re not going to win this argument with reality. One man’s impatience does not magically stop other people from underestimating their time and obstacles involved in doing things.

We’ve seen enough romcoms where something terrible is caused by one character’s irrational impatience at exactly the wrong moment. There’s no need to make life imitate art any more than it already does.

May as well take our hands off our hips and relax.

Thoreau, at the turn of the twentieth century, coined a term in his personal journal called fertile idleness. There’s no official definition for it, but it smacks of acceptance and calm.

We greet the wait with a welcoming heart.

If that’s not enlightenment, I don’t know what is. Besides, where else do we have to do? We got somewhere better to be?

This is it. This is as good as it gets. This is the greatest day of our lives. It’s a game of bowling that never ends.

We are going to spend most of our time waiting for other people to take their turn. And then, when it’s finally our turn, it will last about ten seconds, and then we’ll be waiting again.

Might as well order some nachos and try to enjoy the journey.

When was the last time your gnawing demand for time to speed up actually made things go faster?